How Dads Can Support Breastfeeding
Mum has just given birth. She is tired and vulnerable, and yet she is now required to perform an act of incredible endurance, strength, and gentle compassion.
Dad is tired too, and probably in shock from the overwhelming experience of the birth. He want’s nothing more than to be the best father he can be, and yet, what can he do? For the most part, baby wants mum. Her smell, her gentle hands, her warmth, and her milk.
For me, the important role of the father is beautifully exemplified through the act of supporting mother and child as they get the hang of breastfeeding. I want to acknowledge also all the wonderful mothers who, whether by choice or otherwise, do not breast feed their children. Every context is different, but the underlying principles are, I believe, largely similar.
I like to think that the primary role of the father today, despite the rapidly evolving social, technological, and environmental contexts in which we parent, is fundamentally unchanged in those first few weeks of a child’s life. Provide a safe and nurturing environment for mother and baby to bond, heal, and grow.
This starts with food, shelter, warmth, the first tier on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and extends to acts of kindness and protection, (such as keeping the grandparents happy with photos and updates, and letting them know when is definitely not a good time to visit).
The point is that every situation is different, and every mother will need different things in those first few weeks. But if you, as the father, enter into your role with the fundamental goal of facilitating a safe and supportive environment for mum and baby to connect, then you are already a great dad.
On a more practical note, there are heaps of tips out there for fathers on how to offer support to their breastfeeding partners. Here are a few of my favourites.
- Learn as much as you can. Breastfeeding is taught at antenatal, in hospitals and birthing centers, by midwives and virtually every woman who has been there done that. Walk alongside your partner as she takes it all in, and pay attention.
- Understand your partners breastfeeding goals. Every mother wants what is best for their child, and a few choice words of encouragement at the right time can help mum achieve her goals.
- Lend a hand. Breastfeeding is totally exhausting, so have a go at helping to support mum's tired arms or baby’s body as she experiments with different latches and positions.
- Get active between feeds. Most babys will go through phases where they are up at all hours of the night, refusing to feed, or full of gas. This is a great time for dads to bond with baby. So get burping, changing, and lying down for some oh so precious skin to skin.
- Be kind to mum, baby, and yourself. Everyone is tired, and baby might not be the only one screaming at 3am. If it’s mum screaming, let her. She’s more tired and vulnerable than she has ever been, or ever will be. Don’t get hung up on the words and remember your role. If it’s you screaming, take some time out, and if you can, lean on the wider support network. That’s what they’re there for and nobody can go it alone.
For excelent specialist advise we recommend you visit https://breastfeeding.support/
Rowan is a family support worker, and co-founder of Parent Village. He has social work experience working with youth and men in community and institutional settings.